Now that the state has nixed funding for the proposed Ephesus-Fordham affordable-housing project, the Chapel Hill Town Council’s passage of form-based code stands at least temporarily without the project for which it was introduced, and awkwardly so, considering council’s strong endorsement to increase Town Manager Roger Stancil’s $189,000 affordable housing budget up to three-quarters of a million dollars.
Meanwhile, the council’s rezoning of the Ephesus-Fordham community is an experimental voyage into the virtues of the much-heralded (by some at least) parameters of form-based code, which basically means that these rezoned properties will be developed solely within the allowances of said code – having all to do with finished architectural shapes and sizes, and thanks to East West partners’ piggy-backed Village Plaza approval, nothing to do with affordable housing.
Aside from its inability to link affordable housing, form-based code is not an acceptable solution to the major problems of redeveloping Ephesus-Fordham, as it is based solely on the geometric parameters of the new, high-density zoning, and does nothing to resolve highly critical pre-existing site conditions: inadequate stormwater management (Ephesus-Fordham is already 57 percent man-made impervious), heavy motor traffic (Fordham Boulevard’s level of service is at best “D” during commuter hours), and virtually non-existent pedestrian considerations, all of which must somehow be addressed even were there no re-development, but aggressively so with it.
The town has neglected these issues in forcing form-based code into play, and worsened them by allowing developer(s) to meet their “individual” impact(s) while neglecting community needs. This for the perceived benefit (as forecast by the town manager anyway) of tax revenue(s), while we (the town) get to face these real issues later.
Chapel Hill citizens demand to be informed as to the public impact of this re-development. And who doesn’t want to support Chapel Hill affordable housing (particularly when they themselves may some day need it considering our record sky-high property taxes)?
And what about the existing business community stretching from Ephesus to University Mall, serving our local neighborhoods? Considering the lot that these stakeholders share with us is indeed worthy of a public commitment from the town prioritizing pedestrian connectivity, particularly as it will encourage more of the existing communities to participate in the local economic fabric – not just those brought in by redevelopment.
The most unfortunate paradox of Ephesus-Fordham is the fact that it IS an appropriate location for redevelopment. However, when perceived with the unrealistic logic of placing large “form-based” community(s) proximate to a major Chapel Hill transportation system, and Ephesus-Fordham’s unacceptable impact on existing traffic, flooding and an extremely poorly planned public/urban pedestrian/cyclist environment reveals there is no magic wand in the toolbox of consultant-recommended form-based code.
Dale Coker lives in Chapel Hill.